Chris looked at the straw, which had been so churned up that it had scattered to the edges of the stall, breaking up the manure. The hayrack was empty, and so was the feed bucket affixed to the side of the stall. The water bucket was empty, as well. “He needs hay and water. But something’s up. He’s bothered. Frightened.”
“Is it the cigar?”
“I don’t think so. The Shanks smoke, I smelled it inside.” Chris turned on the barn lights, flickering fluorescents that needed to be replaced. The horse was an old brown draft, sweaty with nervousness. “He seems afraid in his own stall, which makes no sense. Their stall is the one place that horses are never afraid.”
“Stand aside a sec, okay?” Chris lifted the nylon halter from its hook and opened the stall door, stepped inside, slipped the halter over the horse’s head, and fastened the buckle. He led the horse out, and he quieted almost as soon as he stood in the aisle.
“Hold this.” Chris handed the Rabbi the lead rope.
“There’s no crossties.” Chris returned his attention to the stall, walked back inside, and toed the hay that had been disturbed, revealing a layer of screenings, standard subfloor. He had bedded more stalls than he could count, and he recognized new shavings by their light gray color. They hadn’t been here more than a day.
“Chris, what do I do with this thing?”
“Ride him or put him in another stall.”
“He’s looking at me.”
“Maybe he thinks you’re cute.”
“Put him away.”
The Rabbi hustled the horse into the neighboring stall, and Chris dug the toe of his loafer into the shavings until he got to the floor, which was plywood. No stall that he knew of had plywood in the bottom. It should have been a rubber mat or dirt.
“You need to see this,” Chris said, starting to dig. He cleared the hay, screenings, and manure to expose a plywood door locked with a padlock.
“Oh, whoa,” the Rabbi said, over his shoulder.
“Can I get a pair of bolt cutters?”
“It could be booby-trapped.”
“I doubt it. They were not expecting anybody to be here.” Chris yanked at the padlock, then stood up and kicked it, but it wouldn’t come off. It was new and shiny, unlike everything else on this farm. He ran his finger along the edges of the door. “They didn’t just make this. It’s been here awhile. Only the padlock is new.”
“Be right back.” The Rabbi took off, returning quickly with bolt cutters and some ATF, FBI, JTTF, and uniformed locals, who gathered in the aisle outside the stall.
Chris felt his heart pound as he cut the padlock, removed it, and pulled the latch to open the door. It looked like the entrance to an underground bunker of some sort, but it was too dark to see anything.
“Here’s a flashlight,” the Rabbi said, handing him a small one from a uniformed cop.
He shined it inside the hole.
“Courtney!” Chris shouted, when the jittery cone of light found her bound and gagged on the floor, her body facing him. Blood clotted her hairline, and dirt streaked her lovely face. Her eyes closed above a red bandanna covering her mouth. They opened, squinting in the sudden light, and she began to make whimpering noises.
“It’s the sister?” the Rabbi asked, urgent. “Is she alive?”
“Yes, Courtney Wheeler, alive.” Chris stuck his head in the hole and shined the flashlight around. Evan wasn’t there. The bunker contained a plastic table cluttered with bomb-making equipment—a leftover pile of white ammonium nitrate fertilizer in crystalline form, a soldering iron, wiring, wire cutters, pliers, and other tools—plus ashtrays, an old CD player, and empty soda cans. There were two folding chairs, one knocked over. The bottom floor was earth, about six feet or so away.
“Courtney, it’s Chris, I’ll be right there!”
Courtney responded with frantic sounds, writhing, and Chris jumped down through the hole, landed hard, and rushed to her side. Tears came to Courtney’s eyes, and she tried to get up, making whimpering noises as he elevated her upper body, undid the bandanna over her mouth, and dug out a sock that had been cruelly stuffed inside it. Instantly she began to cough, a hoarse hacking that wracked her chest.
“Chris … Chris…” Courtney tried to talk between coughs. “Thank God … somebody came … they put me here … to die … my own brothers…”
“Where’s Evan?” Chris helped her sit up, then scrambled to untie her hands from behind her back, putting the flashlight between his teeth.
“They took him … they made him go … oh, Chris … Chris … it’s all my fault … I’m so sorry…”
“Your brothers took Evan? Where? When?” Chris untied the rope around her shins, bound on top of her jeans. She only had one shoe.
“To … Philly … the courthouse … don’t know when … they’re going … to blow it up…”
“Rabbi, did you hear that?” Chris shouted out the open lid, taking the flashlight out of his mouth.
“Got it!” the Rabbi called back. “Get her underneath the door. We’ll hoist her up.”
“Courtney, can you stand? Hold on to me.” Chris took her arm, looped it around his neck, and supported her as she struggled to her feet.
“Chris, you don’t know what … they’ve done … they killed Doug.” Courtney started to cry, but Chris couldn’t let her lose it now.
“Courtney, keep it together. We have to get you out of here. Let me lift you, then reach up, okay?” Chris positioned them under the door, hoisted her up, and lifted her upward.
“I can’t, I can’t…”
“Climb on my shoulders, you can do it.”
“Help me!” Courtney struggled to get her legs onto Chris’s shoulders, and in the next moment, she was pulled up through the trapdoor into the stall. He grabbed a chair, stood on it, and boosted himself out of the hole. The Rabbi helped a weepy Courtney to a sitting position against the wall, as he identified himself and Mirandized her. Behind him, ATF, FBI, and JTTF agents started videotaping her with their phones. Somebody handed Courtney a bottle of water, which she drank thirstily while Chris went to her side, kneeling.